November 20

The Scholastic Book Fair Is Almost Here!!!

Today Grade 2 had the opportunity to hear about some of the books that we will have available at our Scholastic Book Fair from December 4-6.  The books they were most excited about (of course) are the Dav Pilkey offerings.  He has a great series for beginning readers called Dragon that they were all eager to get their hands on.

We then sat in the storytime area to hear another book that will be at the fair called Bruce’s Big Move.  This book was laugh out loud funny for me and the kids.

Every student will have a scheduled time to visit with their class.  Parents can visit at any time – drop-offs, pick-ups, or during the day.  Parents will also have the opportunity to attend when visiting the school during parent-teacher conferences.  It is also open to the community, so come one, come all.  It will be a great opportunity to pick up some Chanukah gifts!  If you want to help out, please get in contact with Jaimee Mitzmacher who is our PTA chair of the event.

See you there!

November 18

Continuing Our Work with Keywords

“Hey Siri, what makes a desert habitat unique?”

The answer to a complex question like that isn’t something Siri can answer so easily.  The problem is that students are using this Siri driven searching method every time they go online.  Typing long or complex questions into Google is a bad habit that needs to be broken in order to get the best search results for student research.

Grade 4 had a full period of practice on Thursday and it is already making a big difference in how they are approaching this task.

We first talked about the importance of being specific with our search terms.  Ari and Keira helped our grade 4s to get the idea with their tutorial.


Students were given a worksheet containing several long questions and asked to figure out what would be the most specific keywords to get the best results.  It was important for me to continually remind them that they don’t need to type a question in Google to get results.

Sample Questions:

1. My dog is digging holes in the backyard.  Is that because they are looking for bones?

Specific keywords to get a clear answer: dog digging

2. My friend just cheated at chess, what are the rules?

Specific keywords to get a clear answer: chess rules or rules of chess

We then gave students a research question:

Are video games addictive?  Can they affect child behaviour?

Students had to come up with all of the possible keywords and keyword combinations (called a query) on a whiteboard that would yield great search results for a paper on the topic.


Some of those were;

video games and addiction

children and video games

child behaviour and video games

video games and emotions

children and addiction and video games

etc.. etc…

Asking students to practice these skills with a daily in-class question is a great way to give them practice in this more precise way of searching.  Through regular practice they will learn how to get meaningful results and this will improve the quality of their work overall.

November 13

My Wonderful Experience with Student-Led Conferences

(This article was written a few years ago and is being re-posted here to share as a part of a twitter chat #2ndchat on Wednesday November 13th at 8 pm.)

What a Grade 1 Student-Led Conference Might Look Like

My daughter’s school holds student-led conferences once a year for all grades.  Last night, my husband and I attended my daughter’s conference and it was such a great experience I wanted to share about it with teachers who may be in need of some inspiration.  

Parents signed up for a 30 minute time slot, and in that time slot, five children consecutively got to have their conference at different tables with their own parents.  My daughter grabbed her portfolio and chose a table for us to sit down at.                                                                           

This is the portfolio she made for her best work.







Each student has a checklist to work through of their school subjects and the work that they have chosen to share with their parents.

My daughter read us passages from her favourite book, spelled words using a “Boggle” game, demonstrated an exercise with fractions, and showed us her best art piece.

She also presented us with a research project she did on penguins which really impressed us!

She was very proud of her work and moved on to telling us about her favourite activities in subjects where she couldn’t necessarily show us her work… her favourite game in gym (Vegetable Soup), her favourite song in music (Something Just Like This) her favourite activity in French (none apparently.)

I had an opportunity to ask her teacher about her take on these conferences. She said she had never done them before but really liked them. They were so easy to organize… the kids do all the work!

Setting Goals

Eleanor was able to set a goal at the end of our conference and think about what steps she would need to take to get there.  That was great because she got to choose an area she felt she needed improvement and her teacher then read through the goal with her and let her know it was good one to work on.  

The last word…

Overall it was such a great experience to be a parent and have your child share what they do all day because the typical response when I ask her is always the classic response; “nothing.”  She is certainly doing a lot more than nothing and it’s great to see it for myself. We were floored at some of the things she had learned. We had no idea she could do some of this stuff.  

When we were walking out I said “Mom and Dad are so proud of you Eleanor.”  

“Yeah,” she said, “you should be.”


November 5

Critical Pedagogy and Our North Stars

Over the past month I have been taking a course on a wonderful philosophy of education called Critical Pedagogy.  Critical pedagogy’s most influential theorist, Paolo Freire, compared the education system to banking.  In this banking model, teachers make deposits of knowledge which students bank for future use.  Because of this, students often approach their education as consumers and passive receivers of knowledge rather than active agents shaping their own lives.

And yet, this is how UNESCO and the IFLA define information literacy, and it is a far cry from passivity;

Information Literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning. It empowers people in all walks
of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal,
social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world
and promotes social inclusion of all nations.

Lifelong learning enables individuals, communities and nations to attain their goals and
to take advantage of emerging opportunities in the evolving global environment for
shared benefit. It assists them and their institutions to meet technological, economic and
social challenges, to redress disadvantage and to advance the well being of all.

This definition of information literacy means that the banking model to teaching is not going to cut it.  Students need to learn how to use information for more than financial gain.  They need to use it to make this world a better place for everyone.  At the OJCS one of our North Stars is ‘Each Person is Responsible for the Other.’  This is at the core of critical pedagogy.

The OJCS is already very active in empowering our students to be active agents in their own education.  ‘Genius Hour’ is one example of how our teachers are living these ideals and allowing students the opportunity to pursue their passions and become creators of knowledge.  Many of these projects have the goal of changing the world for the better too.

Another facet of critical pedagogy is that each student has unique perspectives and experiences to share, which is a way they can teach the teachers and their classmates.  This concept connects to the North Star ‘We are always on inspiring Jewish journeys.’  The unique perspective at our school is the Jewish perspective.  That perspective will make the experiences of our students different from those of students at non-Jewish schools.  For that reason, it is important for teachers to see through that lense.

Another key aspect of critical pedagogy is that teaching shouldn’t be the domain of the teacher alone.  Allowing students self-directed learning and discussion time during lessons is one way empower students to think for themselves and find ways to apply the lesson to their own personal experiences.  One OJCS North Star is that “We own our own learning.  We own our own story”.  Each student has so much to share and so much to teach us.  But to do so, they need lots of teacher-created opportunities to share.

One of the things we hear a lot at staff meetings is that at OJCS we are all lifelong learners.  Teachers and students are always challenging themselves and learning all the time.  This is another North Star “We Learn Better Together.”  So this course presented an opportunity for me to learn and grow.  Learning about critical pedagogy will directly impact the way that I design workshop curriculum and will change what I expect as outcomes.  Right now I mainly educate about information literacy, but to me critical pedagogy is about empowering students to take that knowledge and become ethical, active, global citizens.


Accardi, Maria T.  Critical Library Instruction: Theories & Methods.  Duluth: Library Juice Press.  2010
Elmborg, James.  Critical Information Literacy: Implications for Instructional Practice.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Volume 32, Number 2.  2006.
Delpit, Lisa.  Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom.  New York: New Press, 1995.